Weightlifting used to be thought of as a physical activity that would “bulk” women up, but we’ve since learned that strength training does the exact opposite. It builds lean muscle mass, helps us shed fat faster, and, even more importantly, makes us stronger than ever before.
Just because we know the benefits, though, doesn’t automatically make us expert weightlifters. There’s a lot to learn in the world of lifting, which is why POPSUGAR spoke to Dee Gautham, NASM-certified personal trainer and NPC bikini competitor, to get some insider tips on how to navigate the weight room. She said there are two main mistakes she sees a lot of women making when they’re strength training.
The number one blunder? “Not lifting heavy enough,” Dee told POPSUGAR. “A lot of women have the misconception that you should only lift light weights at high reps to ‘tone.’ In fact, there’s actually no such thing as ‘toning’ exercises — the toned look is achieved by both shedding body fat and building muscle, which you do by pushing your body with the heavy weights.”
That doesn’t mean you should start lifting as heavy as possible right away. You should always aim for correct form, even when the weight gets heavy. But what Dee is saying is that you should leave behind the thought that small weights and high reps are what will build muscle and shed fat. Your body is a lot stronger than you think, and you might be surprised to learn that you can work up to squatting your own bodyweight (plus some) in a pretty short amount of time.
Another thing Dee often sees is women “focusing too much on small isolation exercises (like abs or hip abduction) instead of large full-body movements like squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts.” Although there’s nothing wrong with going to barre classes and doing light isolation exercises every now and again, just keep in mind that you won’t get major weight-loss results if you only do those kinds of programs.
“If you’re trying to lose body fat and get a toned look, focus on full-body movements that burn a lot of calories,” Dee instructed. “Throw in the accessory stuff for the smaller muscles at the end.”
The movements Dee recommends — squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts — work many different muscles at the same time, so that’s where you really build strength and muscle. You can also do compound upper-body movements, like chest presses, dips, shoulder presses, and pull-ups.